Home-schooling Oversight

When did it become okay not to educate your kids?

This. I actually know something about this.  This is a question asked by a commenter here.

Dave and I moved to Southern Pines, North Carolina in the early seventies.  We rented a small house there, and in 1976, Nathan was born. But prior to Nathan’s birth, in part due to being away from family and friends and being a bit lonely, I started attending the church down the road.  It was within walking distance of our house.


This is Calvary Memorial Church in Southern Pines. We refer to it fondly as the Fundy Church From Hell.  We spent about 14 years there. It was all my fault, and I have apologized almost daily since leaving there.

Calvary, pastored at that time by a man named Kent Kelly, had a Christian school.

Kent was an odd duck, as fundamentalist pastors go.  He was not the Joel Osteen type, by any means. Or the Jerry Falwell type.  He was more moody than that, almost sullen.  He wore crumpled corduroy jackets, the type with patches on the sleeves.   Here he is all dressed up for a formal photo.

kent kelly

Kent was basically a tyrant. He ruled the church with an iron fist but we were all willing prisoners.

The church consumed our lives. Dave and I were down there nearly every single day for one thing or another. On Saturdays, there were work days. We were essentially Kent’s slave labor force.  He would ride around on a tractor while the rest of us walked and did whatever he dictated should be done.

For a while, I used to go to the grocery store early on Saturday mornings to buy marked-down ground beef for work-day-lunch hamburgers. I’d get the biggest packages I could find, but I always had to buy one small package of ground round.

For Kent.

He had to have ground round for his hamburger, and he wouldn’t eat it if it had been frozen. The rest of us got marked-down plain ground beef.

You get the idea.

Kent Kelly had zero qualifications to be a pastor. He was just a guy who was a landscaper who started preaching. He had no seminary training, no college education, nothing.

The Christian school had a principal who actually had some education, which, looking back from where I sit now, was sort of amazing.

The school itself struggled with its teaching staff. My mother, who moved to teach in the school not long after we moved there, was teaching with only two years of college. She had to return to the local community college at one point to get some more hours of credit to meet state requirements. Kent told her she could take anything she liked, so she took a course in pottery-making.

The disdain for state oversight was palpable.

One day, in the late seventies (probably sometime in 1976 or 1977), Kent told us a story about how a Christian school in some mid-western state had been closed down by the state.  The issue was state-regulation and the certification of teachers.

What Kent was proposing was to take the licensing documents that our Christian school had and put them in an envelope and send them back to the state licensing board.  Only “God” could oversee the school, he said.  Only the Bible should be the ruling document. Children were the property of their parents, given to them by “God,” and the state had no business telling parents how to educate their kids.

As he brought his tirade to a close, he said, “I will tell you all now. We’re going to send these documents back to the state, and if the state of North Carolina comes to this house of “God” to close it down, this pastor’s blood will be shed.”

I will never forget it. I remember the chill that went up my spine, and I knew that no matter what happened, I was going to stop my husband from being one of the men who stood at the door and met those state authorities.  No matter what.  I should have understood then that I didn’t really buy into all the bullshit.

However, Kent did his thing and embarked on a mini-career as a political activist and lobbyist.  He was gone that year more than he was around. He would be home most of the time for Sunday church and then gone again.

If I am remembering correctly, he personally visited every Christian school in the state of North Carolina to get the pastor on board with his agenda, which was to challenge the Department of Non-public Education’s teacher certification requirements.

You have to understand his motives.  He was, of course, a True Believer, but like all True Believers, there were underlying motives. The school and church paid abysmal salaries. Really low.  Furthermore, they discriminated heavily between male and female employees, on the grounds that women didn’t need to support a family. In addition, all church and school employees were classified as “missionaries” so the church did not pay FICA taxes on any of them.

I have often wondered how some of those die-hard long-term employees are faring now. They were my peers, and thus are pretty much my age now, looking at retirement and social security. I do not know if they all panicked when they began to age and realized that they had no social security benefits in front of them and maybe they ran out and got real jobs for the requisite amount of time to qualify.  Or if they are struggling.  I don’t know.

At any rate, this low salary situation contributed to a real problem trying to find teachers. In addition, of course, Kent required every teacher to attend the church regularly, so there was a very limited pool of potential teachers in the first place. Having to meet state certification requirements just put another hurdle in his way, and he fought back.

He visited pastors, cajoled them, pleaded with them, and finally got a bunch on board. By the spring of 1978, the state had responded by filing suit against a group of Christian schools, Calvary among them.

The group hired an attorney named William Ball to represent them, and he chose Calvary as the school to appear in court representing all the others.  There was a reason for this.

Most Christian schools during this period were pretty much “white-flight” schools. They were started as a reaction to busing and integration. Calvary was somewhat different.  The church was white. I don’t remember ever seeing any non-white people in church. But the school was integrated, more so than the neighboring population.  So William Ball wanted Calvary as the model school because he knew the prosecution could not bring up race as an issue.

At any rate, we went to court.  The case was called the State of North Carolina v Columbus Christian Academy et al.

Et al means “all others similarly situated.”  We were “similarly situated.” And it was our teachers who were put on the witness stand and our school that Ball used in his legal defense.

Click image to link to source

And I went to work doing legal research for Kent who was passing it all on to William Ball.  I’d never done anything like that in my life, but I was available and willing and read fast, so I got the job, as a volunteer, naturally.  Nathan, aged two, got free day care (he spent much of that time in his grandmother’s kindergarten class).



See those folks?  Dave and I are someplace in that crowd.

I am so sorry, America.  I was so wrong.

So there was a trial.  The national media picked up the story, and one of the major networks interviewed Kent one night. I remember it well because we were the only people in the church who would admit to owning a television set. (Television was considered to be of the devil.  Our position was that televisions have off buttons.) As a result, about 50 people packed into our small living room to watch Kent be on national television, while simultaneously criticizing us for owning the set.

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Undaunted by the court decision (regardless of what that blurb says, my memory is that we lost in court, or maybe we thought we were going to lose), Kent decided that if the court said we had to obey the law, the best thing to do was change the law.  That’s when he became a lobbyist. He spent much of the following 8 or 10 months at the legislative building in Raleigh.

We wrote massive numbers of letters.  We’d have letter-writing evenings at the church, all seated in the dining room at long tables with lots of paper and pens and told exactly what to write.  The letters were then gathered up and taken in boxes to Raleigh the following day.  Thousands of letters.

One person who was doing lobbying at the capitol went down to the dining room for lunch and overheard two legislators talking about the bill that had been introduced (“our bill”).  One said to the other, “I haven’t read the bill, and don’t really know what it’s about it, but I’m going to vote for anything that I get that many letters about.”

I remember that I knew that wasn’t right.  Everyone was cheering, but I knew it was just plain wrong.

In the end, the bill passed.  North Carolina went from being one of the most heavily-regulated states in the union in regard to non-public education to being one of the least-regulated states. To teach in a private school, you had to be a high-school graduate and 18 years old. Nothing more.

Kent got what he wanted and was all happy for a few years, until he had a series of brain stem strokes due to his extreme untreated hypertension (he didn’t trust doctors) coupled with his atrocious diet (all that ground round). He was left partially paralyzed, unable to preach, and a huge burden on his family.  He lived that way for quite a few years until he finally died in 2008. He was my elder by six years.

And Calvary has had sub-standard teachers ever since. A long-time math teacher has no college education at all and is a graduate of Calvary Christian School. Nobody has to take pottery classes any more.

And that’s, of course, about private Christian schools, not home schools.


But Dave and I moved away in the mid-eighties and went to South Carolina, to a small town north of Greenville.  We put Nathan in a local Christian school.  The Greenville area, in part because of Bob Jones University, has a lot of home-schoolers. Many of them are people who would really like to have their children in Christian schools, but they cannot afford the tuition for their large families.

Unlike Calvary, which for all its faults was relatively egalitarian, the school in Greenville (Hampton Park Christian School) was elitist in many ways. We didn’t attend church there. I drove an old beat-up VW bug. Nathan watched little TV (in spite of our exposing him to the devilish thing from birth) and hence, didn’t know many of the references to sit-coms and stuff that the other kids made.  Nathan was a nerd. He played piano very well.  He couldn’t play sports to save his life.

He was bullied.

We visited his teachers.  We talked with the principal. We got nowhere. We gave up, and took him out of school.  It was our only choice in that situation since we thought public school was satanic.  So we joined the ranks of home-school families.

In South Carolina at that time (late eighties), a home-schooled child was considered to be a public school kid who was simply permitted to remain at home.  The public schools were able to count home-schooled kids for federal aid purposes, at a lesser percent, and we had certain requirements. We had to fill out a calendar for the whole school year along with a list of all the books and curriculum we were using and submit it every fall. And every spring, our kids went to a local public school and were tested.

It was okay, but not perfect. The kids were not used to being in a classroom.  It made for a less-than-ideal setting for testing.

In addition, there were signs of it getting much more difficult. The stuff you submitted to the state was essentially an application. You had to be approved. It wasn’t like Kentucky today, where you just elect to inform the state that you’re homeschooling. In South Carolina, then, they could tell you no and sometimes they did just that.

So, we looked for a different way.  One of the provisions of the law stated that a child had to be educated in the public school system unless he was enrolled in a private school.  People had tried the whole pretending-to-be-a-private-school thing before, with varying amounts of success.

But I was struck by one organization who set out to pave a different road, one I liked.  The woman who founded it, Zan Tyler, believed strongly in oversight. She felt that the state’s concern with homeschooling was largely around making sure that somebody was actually educating their kids and that there was accountability.  Her idea was to form a “private school” (which would put our kids under the private school laws and not the public school laws) that demanded accountability from the member parents.  Her argument was that somebody was going to do oversight, and if we didn’t want the state to do it, we better do it ourselves.

scaihsThe organization is called the South Carolina Association of Independent Home Schools.

Zan’s story is here.

We were among the first families to join SCAIHS.

The reporting/monitoring requirements were much more intrusive and onerous than the state ever thought about.  Zan felt strongly (and I agreed wholeheartedly) that if we couldn’t prove accountability, we’d never win. If I remember correctly, I had to send in a monthly report detailing what we’d studied and where we were on our schedule.

And best of all, testing, real, bona fide achievement testing, was available for us and we could administer the tests at home.

We were also required to be members of Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA).

It was great.

It was great right up until the day when I got a phone call from the superintendent of public schools for Greenville County. He explained to me that I was breaking the law and that I couldn’t homeschool through SCAIHS but had to go through the public school, like I always had. I explained that I was not breaking the law at all.  We argued politely for a bit and then he told me that he was going to sue us.

I kept very calm (I do not flip out like some other folks we know), but when I got off the phone, I was shaking.  I immediately called both Zan Tyler and HSLDA.

Home School Legal Defense immediately assigned an attorney to my case and Zan contacted them as well.  She told me later that they were all actually fairly delighted that Greenville County had chosen us to do battle over, because of several things.  Nathan was doing very well with homeschooling. We were over-achievers.  I was a registered nurse and Dave was college-educated. We had one child, not a dozen. We did not live in a garden shed.

In the end, the HSLDA attorney wrote a letter on our behalf to the superintendent and the man rethought his strategy, and erased us from his hit list.  We went right on home-schooling happily until we moved back to North Carolina a couple of years later.

In North Carolina, it was a bit different. Remember the court case regarding private schools that Dave and I rallied around?  Remember the legislation that we were able to get passed which changed the law?

Well, in North Carolina, home school students were not public-school kids permitted to remain at home.  Instead, they were private school students.  Many home schools in NC actually gave their “school” a silly name. You know, Redemption Christian School or Blessed Little Christian Academy.  Dumb shit like that.

And because we’d managed to get the law obliterated regarding oversight of private schools, home schools had no oversight either. The same laws applied.

And that is one of the ways it became okay not to educate your kids.  You chip away at the laws. You find loopholes, bit by bit by bit.

In a way, it’s the opposite of what is happening in America with abortion rights.  To curb abortion rights, opponents don’t try to overturn Roe v Wade.  Instead, the right to an abortion exists nationwide.  It’s just getting harder and harder and more expensive to exercise that right.

At the same time, it’s gotten easier and easier to home-school, and there are fewer requirements.

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This is from HSLDA’s website. It’s annoying as hell because they demand an email address before letting you view anything, so I filled in an obviously bogus one and grabbed the screen shot.

Notice that there are actual requirements in Kentucky.  Notice also that they are not enforced to amount to anything.  Nobody checks to see if you’re actually doing any of that. Hell, you can have your children removed from your home and nobody will check.

Is this a horrible situation?

Yes, it is. It’s terrible and Kentucky isn’t even listed by HSLDA as one of the most lenient states. In several states, you don’t even have to tell the state anything at all.

And I, in my very misguided youth, helped in a tiny way to make that a reality.

I am so sorry.




14 thoughts on “Home-schooling Oversight”

  1. And now we have a secretary of education who wants to use our tax money to fund these scams. The US government needs to grow a spine and start standing up to churches. The first amendment, which is being eroded all but for the bit about religion, in regard to religion, is that you can’t be unduly burdened in your personal practice. You can’t be jailed for your personal beliefs. It’s not carte blanche to do whatever you want to anyone you want and to claim discrimination if someone doesn’t want to be forced to participate. The irony here is my private Christian school taught us this, and taught us that freedom of speech isn’t freedom from repercussion, just safety from being jailed for what we say against the government (that might be changing though), and that the second amendment doesn’t mean guns for all, but rather a well-regulated militia.

    The government needs to learn what sixth-graders are my Christian school were taught, and stop being cowards and letting religion run the country. Do we really want Christian sharia and different denominations going to war over the right way until finally the most extreme wins out? The government needs to start respecting the constitution instead of forcing their personal beliefs on the rest of us. Parents shouldn’t have the right to not-school. Children need to have rights.

    I need to stop writing now, or else I’ll go on for hours. As a now-atheist with a child whose homeschool program might not be around next year, this whole thing infuriates me.

    Part of me wants to get mad at you, but part of me knows if you hadn’t done anything, someone else would have, and when it comes to a cult, there was probably very little you could say or do to convince anyone else to stop. But for now, I’m going to be a bit ticked at you for the role you did play anyway, and I can’t apologize for that.


  2. Reluctant homeschool mom here. I am so lucky to have access to highly qualified teachers to teach my kid privately. There isn’t a school right now that meets our needs, but believe me, we’re searching. I am shocked that I have zero accountability to both the district and the state. Zero reporting on the well being of my kid. We know of a local crazy family who took their child out of middle school and kept her at home with no contact after they found out she was lesbian. No oversight. No recourse. Emotional abuse that is completely legal. Because freedom and evil state.


  3. But for now, I’m going to be a bit ticked at you for the role you did play anyway, and I can’t apologize for that.

    In my own defense, I was about eleven years old when my mother began indoctrinating me. Breaking free is difficult. It’s so difficult that most people never succeed.


  4. Wow! Your history amazes me, you’ve done so much. I find your fundy past very interesting. Being former LDS homeschooling was kind of rare, as was sending kids to private schools. Mormons are weird about that, they believe in being in the world not of the world. So we were the odd ones out in our ward. Definitely a little different than your experience.

    We live in what is considered a moderately restrictive homeschooling state. Every year I fill out a notification for that has a curriculum outline in it including the materials we will be using. I also have to have the kids either tested via a nationally normed exam or I can have an assessment with a certified teacher. I go the latter route, although I’ve done the testing route when the kids were younger. They are high school aged now and testing in the schools takes place through the year over a number of dates. It’s a pain in the neck and I choose to just have a teacher go over their work. If testing was required I wouldn’t have an issue with it. We’d probably just work with one of the numerous homeschooling groups and test through them.

    I have no issues with oversight. I guess I am a statist because I don’t feel I have anything to hide. My children are educated. They also interact with their peers. My state is also odd because it allows full access for homeschooling students. They are allowed to participate in sports, extracurricular activities, and even classes. We’ve taken advantage of that, it’s a wonderful resource and I’m paying the property taxes, so why not.

    We are also an anomaly because we live in an area with a large group of secular homeschoolers. Most of the co-ops are not religious and the families tend to be far more liberal than in other areas. But even though the parents tend to be liberal they usually are against any additional government oversight. I’ve interacted with enough of them to understand why, their children aren’t being educated at a level equivalent to the public schools.

    I am not sure what the answer is. HSLDA is a big group and they will fight additional requirements. I of course would never work with HSLDA and they wouldn’t work with me either because we are crazy unschoolers. I would though like to see more oversight but I won’t hold my breathe that it will happen.


  5. I forgive you, not that it matters. Forgive yourself. The work you do and continue to do to bring light to this situation more than makes up for it.

    We have a problem. What are we going to do as a society when the time comes to absorb those unfortunate enough to receive little to no adequate education?

    As with everything there are those who will abuse the system. This is why we can’t have nice things. Sigh.


  6. This was a beautiful read. I think it came from your heart. When we’re young we so badly want to make a difference and I do believe later on we will regret some of those choices. I personally do not label myself as one single thing, I absorb from everything to find what I believe in. Even then I’m still not sure what I truly believe in. I went to a Christian school by the way, in a small town, until it got closed down. Most of my fellow class mates switched to home schooling. I would have preferred home schooling, I learn better reading the material as opposed to lectures. I did most of my college degree via online through a local college. Lectures drive me nuts. I would love to homeschool my own children.


  7. It is a shame when a person in power such as Kent makes himself king in the name of God. To think he took his man made crown and changed laws is a very sad thing.
    Before we moved our neighbors directly across the street were this type of family. The father ruled his family. He ruled his church where he was not just pastor but in charge of everyone and the lives they lead. He ruled his Christian school. Everything he ruled was with a iron fist. If he said no one can listen to music on the radio anymore than the whole church was suppose to stop.
    His wife and children were not allowed to wave hello. They wore long shirts even in the hot muggy days of summer.
    We met a few people who had been affected very negatively by that church.
    When our daughter died they did not bother to come over and say how sorry they were. Not a card. Not a wave. Nothing. That says it all right there.
    Our youngest son was a teen and very tall and handsome. If he was outside in his own yard the daughters were ordered inside.
    One day he came in laughing his head off and I asked him what was up.
    He said he was washing his car and he could see the pastors teen girls peeking from behind the curtains of their upstairs rooms.
    He could also see the glint of a video camera.
    So he stripped his shirt off and had a good old time stretching and washing his car.
    After that you could feel the hate rolling right out of that house!
    I was so happy when we moved and didn’t have to deal with them any longer.


  8. Sally, we’ve all joined causes we thought were right only to be shown we were wrong. YOU didn’t join that campaign from an evil place.

    If I had to have my kids evaluated every month, I wouldn’t mind. Even our terrible months (Jan & Feb) are decently productive, even if they are ditto sheet heavy. I have a doctor’s note excusing my lapse, I swear! As it is, I have to maintain a portfolio and it’s recommended to have your kid evaluated each year. The principle of the private school offered to evaluate my oldest son for free in exchange for me volunteering a few hours at the school. The youngest isn’t “legally” homeschooled until the 2018-2019 school year since he missed the age cutoff.

    Oooooh, I should give my “school” a snarky name!


  9. Some of these kids have no Birth certificates, no SS number. There pretty much doomed when they get older and ever escape the (BLH).
    There unschooling has sealed there fate, they hear the rants of there mother and father daily. I sometimes wonder if they think there parents are nuts but then again why wold they, they think its normal to think that cops only want to shoot you becae she says thats all they do is shoot people.
    I wonder who take care of those kids why Jaba and tooth sit on a sweat covered matress , I phones in hand running a gazillion different pages. And to the person that runs this and had there fill of religion, I was down that road also but escaped. Good for you
    Look at the two , they used up the LDS and were tossed out as they deserved to be, the corner there boxiing themselves in is getting smaller


  10. With technology to overtake millions of white collar jobs in the next decade, education is more important than ever. People will have to be lifelong learners to retain employment. That will be almost impossible to do if you never learned how to learn through education in your youth.


  11. Sally, forgive yourself. When young, we all did things that weren’t such a good idea with the benefit of hindsight and distance.
    The best anyone can do is what they think is right with the knowledge they had at that given time, and your knowledge was hampered by your upbringing and indoctrination. You couldn’t have been expected to act any differently. Most of the blame lies with Kent Whats-His-Name for leading his flock the way he did, although, indoctrination possibly played it’s role in his life, too.
    I have to admit, I don’t understand why parents don’t want their children educated, but then here is Australia, religion plays a much lesser role in every day life. I don’t know a single person who attends church on a Sunday, and I’m actually glad about that really.


  12. May I suggest you submit this to Homeschoolers Anonymous? They may find it informative, interesting and possibly worth pinning to their page.

    You didn’t do it to be malicious and it underscores the difficulties in changing your outlook and mindset on any number of issues.


  13. I find it fascinating that you were able to disengage from your belief. It’s so much more than that, of course. It includes leaving a support system, a routine, friendships, but much bigger emotionally must be the feeling that you are breaking away from “god”. It must be similar to what one feels leaving an abusive and controlling spouse. What an interesting life struggle. Forgive yourself for aiding in the passing of the bill, please. When we know better, we do better. And you have.


  14. Sally, I love to read your stories. Too bad we aren’t neighbors, my kid could benefit from the wisdom you and your husband contain.


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